Page images

tion was declined. Mr. Grattan, for his services in obtaining the repeal, was almost idolised by the public, till his rivals contended that the mere abrogation was insufficient: he was then assailed with invective, and the reward which had been voted to him by the commons became a strong ground of reproach. A declaratory law was demanded for the removal of all doubts, and GreatBritain acceded to the requisition; but the final adjustment was neglected. Though the anti-unionists pretend that the settlement of that time was intended to be final, the statement here given may serve to invalidate their assertions. As the bill of repeal, and the subsequent act, were deemed by the British cabinet injurious to the connexion between the countries, propositions were framed by Mr. Pitt for permanently securing to Ireland a full participation of commercial advantages, with a proviso that she should contribute, in proportion to her growing prosperity, to defray the expences required in time of peace for the protection of the trade and general interests of the empire. But Mr. Grattan and his associates strongly resisted the offer, alleging that a part of the scheme * tended to subvert the independence which had been lately recognised; and, though a majority agreed to the introduction of the bill, the fear of losing this superiority induced the court to yield to the vigor of opposition. In the discussion of the merits of these propositions, some of the ablest speakers of the British parliament recommended a complete union of the kingdoms. Lord Sackville expressed an earnest wish for the appointment of commissioners to expedite that object: lord Stormont also intimated a desire of its accomplishment: the late earl Camden prophesied that such an event would take place, though he might not live to see it; and lord North was convinced that much benefit would result to both nations, whenever they should be so connected as to form one people, under one government and one legislature. When the visitation of Providence had for a time disqualified our sovereign from the personal exercise of his functions, the two houses of the Irish parliament, without that solemn deliberation which the case required, voted an address to the prince of Wales, desiring him to act immediately as regent. They did not consider, that, as the king of Great-Britain (by their frequent recognition) was necessarily king of Ireland, the regency of the latter kingdom ought to follow that of the former, and that it was their consequent duty to wait the determination of those branches of the British legislature which were constitutionally authorised to supply the deficiency in the executive government. This conduct alarmed the friends of British connexion, as it seemed to furnish a precedent for separation. The king's recovery checked the rising fears; but the irregularity of the procedure could not be forgotten. By some of the members who influenced the decision of the parliament on this memorable occasion, a whig club was instituted for the promotion of political reform, while the aristocratic leaders in a great measure regained their power. The latter concurred in several bills for the extension of the popular interest in the legislature, and also assented to some measures for the relief of the catholics, who, in consideration of the peaceable demeanor of the greater part of their number, were

* That article which required the uniform adoption of the British regulations in the trade with the colonies.


permitted to exercise their religion and hold property without

without restriction, to practise the law, vote at parliamentary elections, and enjoy various offices civil and military. These gratifications did not fully content the sect, as the chief employments under the crown were still with-holden, and the privilege of sitting in parliament was not conceded. Before these relaxations of the rigor of law, a new society had been organised, under the appellation of the United Irishmen. The entire emancipation of the catholics, and a reform of the parliamentary system, were the ostensible aims of this association; but its real object was the erection of a republican fabric on the ruins of the old constitution. The intrigues of its members at length produced a rebellion; and the peril to which the two nations were thus exposed, enforced, beyond the influence of any speculative advice, the experiment of legislative consolidation.


of the

U N I o N




Piew of the Motives for a strict Union-Rise of the Society of United Irishmen—Progress of traitorous Machinations —suppression of the Rebellion—Proposal of a legislative Union in the British Cabinet—Pamphlets on the Subject

Meetings in Ireland. THE French revolution, if not the primary cause, was an accelerating motive to the substitution of a close union for the imperfect connexion between the British and Hibernian realms. In a time of profound peace, such a coalition, whatever advantages it might seem to promise, might have been neglected and postponed from indolence or indifference; but, when the rashness of political empiricism, and the impolicy of the chief potentates of Europe, had propagated the miseries of war to an alarming extent, and had excited strong apprehensions of the forcible dissolution of ancient ties and the subversion of former establishments, the danger of a total loss of connexion with Ireland roused roused the British ministry to all the vigor of exertion. A measure that was before recommended by considerations of expediency, which will not always operate with sufficient influence, became, at so critical a period, an object of imperious necessity. No medium offered itself, to the minds of the reflecting politicians of either country, between the evils of hostile separation and the benefits of incorporative union. Principles of polity, founded on the supposed rights of man, are calculated to make a strong impression on the mass of the people in every state, as they address themselves to the feelings and the passions rather than to the understanding or the judgement: but in a country where oppression, we might almost say, was the order of the day with regard to the major part of the inhabitants—where the peasants were involved in the extremity of want and wretchedness, exposed to the contempt of their superiors and to the brutality of the unprincipled agent, of haughty or negligent landlords—where an unnatural separation subsisted between the rulers of the state and the bulk of the community—where the people, we may add, were exceedingly ignorant and credulous—such doctrines were likely to meet with extraordinary encouragement, and to operate with peculiar force. Some enterprising mal-contents * began to propagate Jacobinical notions in Ireland, with studious eagerness, in 1791; and the society of United Irishmen then originated: but its influence was checked, and its progress retarded, by a dread of the power of the British government. For some years its operations were conducted

* Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Theobald Wolfe Tone, Hamilton Rowan, Dr. Mac-Nevin, &c.

c 2 with

« PreviousContinue »